CURITIBA, Brazil - Emotions and sensitivity are "the essence, the core dimension of the human being," said the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff at a panel on "ethics, biodiversity and sustainability". The panel formed part of the Global Civil Society Forum, held parallel to the Mar. 20-31 Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP8).
It is not reason but feeling that is involved in our first contact with reality, and "today's great crisis is not economic, political or religious, but a crisis of affect, of the capacity to feel a connection with others," he said.
It is indispensable to "take care of all living things," and science shows that cooperation is the "supreme law of the universe," he added.
"The world is not made up of objects but of relationships. It was cooperation that made possible the leap from animal to humanity, and without it we are dehumanised, which is what occurs in the case of capitalism," the theologian told around 300 activists, most of them small farmers.
He added that the principle of responsibility underlies the criticism of transgenic products, the need to take precautions in the face of unpredictable and unknown consequences, the possibility that genetic modification of food could break down the balance between the "billions of bacteria" and molecules that make up a human being.
Boff, who left the priesthood after suffering sanctions at the hands of the Vatican for expressing "dangerous ideas" over the past two decades, has outlined his ecological concerns in several books. He has been invited to give talks at several panels at the COP8.
Boff is one of the founders of liberation theology, which is based on a "preferential option for the poor", whose proponents' involvement in the struggles of the poor and marginalised sectors of the population often brought them into conflict with a more conservative Catholic Church hierarchy in the past.
The expression "sustainable development" is "a deception to undermine the demands of environmentalists" by joining together two contradictory concepts, he told the participants in the Global Civil Society Forum. Development "comes from the capitalist economy," which supposes a constant rise in production, consumption and wealth as part of an illusion of "infinite resources," while sustainability has to do with biology, "the dynamic equilibrium of interrelated beings," he said.
In order for the consumption levels of industrialised countries to become universal, "two additional planet earths" would be needed, he said.
But earlier international conferences have already concluded that by continuing along that road, the earth would no longer be sustainable by 2030 or 2035, and would suffer major catastrophes, said Boff. "We have become the earth's Satan," said Boff. "Either we change or we die."
An equally menacing portrait was painted by Louise Vandelac, director of the Environmental Sciences Institute at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), Canada. Vandelac focussed on the area of biotechnology, and warned that more than biodiversity, it is "the world's biological security that is threatened by the cannibalism of the market."
A second generation of transgenic research and technology has now emerged, devoted to producing genetically modified animals, she said.
The research being carried out today is very different from that of the previous 25 years, she noted. Scientific literature from the last few months reveals that more than 200 tests have already been conducted on pigs, rabbits, cows and fish, and soon the first transgenic salmon could be unveiled in Canada, she reported.
This technology has been highly concentrated up until now, with just four countries - the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Canada Ã» accounting for 96 percent of transgenic commercial production. Moreover, 95 percent of this production is made up of only four crops, namely soybeans, cotton, corn and
canola. In the meantime, Monsanto Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans occupy a full 75 percent of the total area planted with transgenic crops in the world today.
The biotechnology industry's marked interest in developing pesticide-resistant plant varieties owes to the fact that producing a new pesticide costs ten times more, said Vandelac.
Roundup Ready seeds, which produce crops that are resistant to Monsanto's own glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, have guaranteed continued sales of the weedicide. The use of Roundup on transgenic crops dropped off during the first few years, but is now growing at a rate of four percent annually. Studies reveal a 70 percent decline in the toad population in areas where transgenic soybeans are grown. One hypothesis is that Roundup herbicide is altering the animals' hormonal systems and thus interfering with their reproduction, said Vandelac.
Nevertheless, there are "new hopes" emerging as people are becoming more aware of the threats posed by transgenics and pushing for clear regulations that enforce limits on the ambitions of private enterprise, with social movements joining with environmentalists, trade unionists, feminists and other activists in defence of biological security, she concluded.
Argentine lawmaker Marta Maffei called for efforts to combat "cultural domination," the mother of all dominations, in her view.
Maffei maintained that politicians adopt decisions "without knowing anything about environmental issues," and depend on the advice of specialists who work for private companies that have no interest whatsoever in preserving biodiversity.
Social mobilisation is the only way to break this "vicious cycle of environmental domination," she declared.
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service